Category Archives: Breathing Practices

Exercise 69: Box Breathing

Background for 69A: Box breathing is a mindfullness practice.  It begins by identifying 4 points:  the inhale, the pause after the inhale, the exhale, and the pause after the exhale.  Practioners are invited to imagine a box and circle their attention around each side with each of the four parts of the breath.

Mindfulness offers up many tools.   I find these tools very useful in enhancing my experiences of other types of spiritual practice.  One of the most basic principles of mindfulness is to anchor ourselves in this present moment  with the information the 5 senses provide.  One of the challenges with this sensory data is to receive it in  a manner which is as concept-free as possible.

Thus, in mindfulness, it is  good start to notice the feeling of the breeze on my hand.  It is better to disengage my knowledge that it is a breeze and to simply tune in to the feeling on my hand.  It is even better than that to release my concept knowledge that I have a hand: the goal is to simply experience that sensation as something that is occuring.

It is powerful to attend to the breath for as long as we are able.  Perhaps that is just for a part of the inhale.  Perhaps we are able to stay fully in our breath for all 4 “sides” of the “box.”

Two versions of this practice are presented here.  It is worth being reflective on how the two different prescriptions for breath-lengths leave you feeling.

Practice 69A

  1.  Place the feet flat on the floor.  Find your breath.
  2. Inhale for a count of four.
  3. Pause for a count of four.
  4. Exhale for a count of four.  
  5. Pause for a count of four.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5.  This time, stay with the breath for as long as you can.  
  7. Repeat steps 2-5, imagining that each 4-count takes a finger to the end of a side of a box.  As you move on to the next corner of the box, you have entered a new part of the breath.
  8. Continue this 4-part 4 -count, either staying in the breath or imagining the box.  Note how this leaves you feeling.  After this reflection, you may wish to move on to practice 69B.

Background to 69B

It might be helpful to recall the shape of a trapezoid from your last geometry class.   download

For this practice, it’s helpful to envision a box of the shape shown above.  We could imagine that this box had legs of 3 feet.  We could imagine the smaller, upper base was 4 feet, and we could imagine that the lower, longer base was 5 feet.

Practice 69B:

  1.  Place the feet flat on the floor.  Find your breath.
  2. Inhale for a count of four.
  3. Pause for a count of  three.
  4. Exhale for a count of  five.  
  5. Pause for a count of three.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5.  This time, stay with the breath for as long as you can.  
  7. Repeat steps 2-5, imagining that each breath part covers the time it takes a finger to the end of a side of a box.  As you move on to the next corner of the box, you have entered a new part of the breath.
  8. Continue this pattern, either staying in the breath or imagining the box.  Note how this leaves you feeling.  This is your practice.  Please consider changing the lengths for a duration which is more comfortable.  One important thing is the regularity: choosing numbers and sticking with them.  Another important thing is the mere presence to the breath and attention to how that feels in the rest of the body.

Exercise 64: St John of the Cross and God’s Breath

Two of the most important aspects of my mystic’s journey have been the words of St. John of the Cross and the idea of God’s breath.

St. John of the Cross said, “The soul that is united and transformed  in God breathes God in God with the same divine breathing, with which God, while in her, breathes her in himself.”  I am not really sure how it works.  But I think it’s something like this:

1.  Take three deep and cleansing breaths.

2.  Begin with the knowledge that your soul is breathing the very substance of God.

3.  Inhale the very material that forms God.

4.  Exhale the very stuff that forms God.

5.  Repeat these breaths two more times.

6.  As you hold this knowledge that the soul is breathing God into you, know that you are surrounded by God.

7.  Inhale, knowing that you are in God just as a fish is in the sea.

8.  Exhale, knowing that you are in God just as a fish is in the sea.

9.  Repeat steps seven and eight two more times.

10.  For three breaths, hold both sides of that equation: You are in God.  God is in you.

11.  Now, know that God breathes.  The God outside of you breathes.

12.  Inhale, knowing that God breathes just like that.

13.  Exhale, knowing that God breathes just like that.

14.  Repeat steps 12 and 13, two more times.

15.  With your next inhalation, visualize, again, how you breathe in God.

16.  With your next exhalation, visualize, again, how you breathe out the very stuff of God.

17.  Now, know that just as you breathe in God, God-outside-of-you is breathing in the very stuff of you.

18.  Exhale God, knowing that God-outside-of-you-exhales you.

19.  Repeat steps 17 and 18 two more times.

20.  Recall that God is within you, breathing as you inhale.

21.  Recall that God is within you, breathing, as you exhale.

22.  Now, impossibly, paradoxically, and perfectly: God-within-you…  breathes in the very stuff you are made of.  Inhale with this truth.

23.  Impossibly, paradoxically, perfectly:  God-within-you…. breathes out the very stuff you are made of.  Exhale this truth.

24.  Repeat any portion of this progression.  Or release the words entirely.

 

 

Exercise 62: Being held by Silence

Background: This is a modified version of a practice which appears in Richard Rohr’s Just This.  

Their is much of value in the first several steps of this practice.  It might be that you are ready to work through to steps 9-11.  However, don’t rush into it.  It might take weeks, months, or even years.   The first 8 steps are quite a powerful practice on their own.

The Practice:

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.
  3.  Rest in the Silence.
  4. When you are ready, feel embraced by her.  Let the Silence flow over you.
  5. As sounds or distracting thoughts threaten to disrupt your practice, realize that the silence still exists, beneath the distractions.  Look for the silence beneath these things which rise up.  All that happens comes out of silence and will sink back into it.
  6. Inhale Silence.
  7. Exhale Silence.
  8. Continue to be embraced by it.
  9. At some point, you may just be ready to shift your vantage point.  This step is the optional one:  Shift the seat from which you see the world.  It began in the head, with thinking.  Feel this vantage point move down the physicality of your body.  Let yourself reside in the heart, now.  See the world from this place.
  10. Continue to dwell in the silence and bring it in.
  11. You will know that you are authentically occupying the heart space when you experience a clear vastness.
  12. When you are ready, release this practice.  Sit in a time of wordless wonder.

Exercise 61: All Shall Be Well

Background:  Julian of Norwich is responsible for one of the most famous phrases in all of mysticism, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  In her vision this is said by Jesus.  He is responding to her distress.  She states that if God had just stopped sin from happening, then “all should have been well.”

Jesus response is that sin is necessary.  But it doesn’t matter.  And that’s when he gave Julian the phrase which she then gave the world: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

It seems that the phrase has lots of resonance with those who do not know the wider context.  It certainly appealed to me before I researched it.  I like knowing the full story though, because it helps me to understand part of the appeal.

The Jesus of Julian’s vision uses her very own language.  It is almost as if she says “Things were supposed to be good.”  And that response is so very affirmative and over the top, that it puts it to shame.  It is a little bit like the contrast between saying “he is risen.” and “he is risen indeed.”  The second statement goes further than the first.

It seems like the appeal of this statement is in the promise that in the widest possible view, the outcome of everything will be so much better than we could have possibly hoped.

The Exercise.

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Sit straight and comfortably.
  3. Inhale.
  4. Exhale.
  5. With the next inhale, think “All shall be well.”
  6. With the next exhale, think “And all shall be well.”
  7. With the next inhale, think “And all manner of things shall be well.”
  8. exhale.
  9. Repeat steps 5-8 for most of the time you have to devote to your practice today.
  10. When you are ready, release these words and sit in a time of wordless union,

Exercise 59: Breathing This Breath With God

This practice originally appeared in our recent Email Exploration, “God Breathed.”  It brings together the concepts in exercise 58 and in exercise 49

Background: There are two important realities to hold on to with today’s practice.  Both of these have been explored in past emails.
The first is that God breathes in us, just as portrayed in the book of Genesis.  This act of breathe-in-us is in fact what makes us human; perhaps it is how we get the image of God in us in the first place.
The second is that each and every breath is wholly unique.  It never was, and never will be.
One of the implications of these two facts considered together is that it is not only each of our own breaths which can be said to be unique.  Each breath from God is a wholly unique experience.

The Practice: 
1.  Release your worries and concerns.  Note your breath.  
2.  Become present to this very breath with your inhale.
3.  Become present to this very breath with your exhale.
4.  Note the feeling of the breath as it comes in.  
5.  Note the feeling of the breath as it goes out.
6.  With the next inhale, note that this experience, this particular breath is different than all the breaths that ever came before.
7.  With the next exhale, note that this experience, this particular breath, is different than all the breaths that will ever come after.
8.  Continue this pattern.  Be present to this breath, here and now.  Note that the specific sensations are different than the last breath or the next one.
9.  Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular  breath is in some tiny way different than the ‘you’ who breathed that last breath.
10.  Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular breath is different than the you who will breathe that next breath.  
11.  When you are ready, bring to mind the reality that God is breathing this breath into you. 
12.  Bring to mind the reality that you are breathing this breath into God.   
13.  With your next inhale, receive a breath from God that is different than all the breaths God has ever breathed into anyone.
14.  With your next exhale, breathe a breath into God that is different than all the breaths anyone will ever breathe into God.
15.  With your next inhale, as you receive a breath from God, note that the wholly unique character of this very inhalation is a direct result of the interplay between God’s breath and yours.
16.  With your next exhale, as you breathe out a breath to God, be aware that the wholly unique character of the interplay between you and God.
17.  Continue this pattern until it is time to release it.  Then, spend some time in wordless union.

Exercise 58: God’s Breath, God’s Name

This practice original appeared in our Email Exploration, God Breathed.

Background: Recall that one way of understanding the “name” which is sometimes rendered as Yahweh is to see that these letters were meant to resemble the breath.  That is, God’s name is not a series of sounds like any other name.  God’s name is something quite different; it is the act of breathing itself.  For more information and a practice that focuses only on this idea, click here.
At the same time, God is said to have scooped up a handful of earth.  God breathed into it, and then it was a human being.  We can experience God’s ongoing breath as in us as an act of ongoing creation.  We can live in this reality that with each of our inhalations, God is breathing into us.  With each of our exhalations, God is recieving our breath.  For more information on this practice and a practice which focuses only on this idea, click here.

The Exercise
1.  Take a deep breath in.
2.  Exhale.
3.  Release your expectations and worries as you take 2 more deep breaths in and out.
4.   As you inhale, experience this as the first half of God’s name,
5.  As you exhale, experience this as the second half of God’s name.
6.  Repeat steps four and five for a few minutes.
7.   As you inhale, feel God breathing life into you.
8.  As you exhale, feel your breath going out into God’s lungs.
9.  Repeat steps 7 and 8 for a few minutes.
10.  Now, bring these two practices together: inhale.  Receive that breath from God, even knowing that this is the first half of God’s truest name.
11.  Exhale: breathing out a breath received by God.  This receipt is the second half of God’s name.
12.  Continue steps 10 and 11 for most of the time remaining that you had reserved for this practice.
13.  When you are ready, release your images and experiences.  Sit in a time of wordless union.

If you would like to try a practice which combines this one with an awareness of this present moment being the only one we have, this present breath being the only breath we ever breathe, click here.

Exercise 55: Meditations for Each Week of Advent

Background: Advent  is a time of quiet anticipation in the darkness.  Traditionally, the weeks leading up to Christmas have been assigned a theme, signified by the lighting of a candle.  As you try these practices you might join in this tradition by lighting a single candle the first week, a pair the next week, three candles the third week, and four candles on the fourth week.

One expression of these advent themes is hope, peace, joy, and love.

These are four powerful words.  They can be used in a few different ways contemplatively.  In the examples below, the word “peace” is used.  If you wish to follow the traditional themes, of course, you should substitute this word for whichever is appropriate to the week.

One way to use these words is as a method of dismissing disruptive thoughts. We set the intention to sit with calm, untroubled minds.   The word (hope, peace, etc.)  is brought to mind whenever disruptive thoughts or emotions arise.  This is a method used in some Buddhist practices and by the Centering Prayer movement.

One important difference between Centering Prayer and Buddhists who use a word to release our preoccupation with distractions is that Centering Prayer invites us to think of the use of this word as a symbol of our consent for the Holy Spirit’s intervention into our quiet time.  One important thing they have in common is that both groups emphasize the goal of being gentle with the use of the word, and avoiding the hamster wheel of becoming emotionally charged as intrusive thoughts threaten to distract us.  Wise teachers have advocated that we aim for a sense of gratitude each time we use our sacred word and avoid the idea that we are “doing it wrong” each time we return to our practice.

55A: The Practice

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Take 3 cleansing breaths.  
  2. Release your worries and concerns for this time.  Do your best to clear your mind.
  3. As intrusive thoughts arise, dismiss them by thinking the word “Peace.”  Sink into this word.
  4. Continue this practice for as long as you wish.

 

Background: These words can also be used as a mantra.  A mantra is a word that is used with out stopping.  It is repeated nonstop.  In some ways this is more preventative than the prior strategy.  The hope is that in occupying the mind, we prevent any intrusive thoughts from arising.  I find mantra meditation particular powerful when done out loud.  The word can be chanted or even sung.   I find that after a time, I occupy a strange space of knowing what the word means but somehow also feeling that the word is nonsensical.  This can be a bridge, a case study in the limits of all our concepts and words.

For some, the goal of mantra meditation is to hear the word already being said somewhere deep within.

55B: The Practice

  1.  Create a quite and safe space for yourself.  Light some candles if you wish.
  2. Begin saying (or thinking) your sacred word.  You might begin with a slow and steady rhythm.  Be open to the possibility of chanting or singing.
  3. If thoughts, feelings, or other mental intrustions arise, sink more deeply into the experience of this particular word.
  4. When your time nears an end, release the word.  Sit in a time of wordless union.

 

Background:  As the name implies, breath prayers are words to God that can be offered up within the span of a single breath.  Usually these are repeated several times.  Often times, the inhalation and exhalation are used differently.  For example, a certain phrase might be connected with the inhale and a different phrase connected to the exhale.

Please recall that you might coordinate this with each of the advent weeks.  Though the example below uses the word “peace” you could also use the word “hope” or “love.”

Practice 55C: A first breath prayer.

  1.  Take 3 deep, cleansing breaths.
  2. With the next inhale, think “Peace”
  3.  Exhale the feelings in your heart and body which stand in the way of peace.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the time you have devoted to this practice.

 

 

Exercise 53: You, who are closer than our breath, speak to us from the silence

Background:  My wonderful spiritual community is praying through the psalms, one a day.  The Pastor recommended ‘Psalms for Praying’ by Nan C. Merrill.  I had planned on ignoring her.  I felt like I could navigate through the difficult language that pops up in many of the psalms as they are traditionally translated.  Then she gave me the book, and it felt ungrateful not to read them there.  And I was glad I did.

As we read psalm 45, I approached it in a lectio-kind of mind set, looking for some words that spoke to me.  A few stanzas in, I came to this: “You, who are closer than our breath/  speak to us from the silence.”  As you can see below, I took a few minor liberties with the phrasing.

It felt right to build in increasing empty spaces in this exercise.  A precise count is not particularly important.  Therefore, one approach to “five deep breaths” Is to simply accept that 4 or 6 will also do.  The alternative is to use the thumb and finger tips to help keep track: On the first breath, touch thumb of both hands to pointer finger of both hands.  On the second breath, thumb to middle finger.  On the third thumb to ring finger.  On the fourth thumb to pinky.

The Exercise

  1.  Release your worries and expectations with a deep exhale.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Take two more deep, cleansing breaths.
  4. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  5. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  6. Inhale.  Exhale.
  7. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  8. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  9. Take two deep breath.
  10. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  11. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  12. Take three deep breaths.
  13. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  14. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  15. Take four deep breaths.
  16. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  17. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  18. Spend a time in wordless communion.  Try to release all of the words.
  19. When you feel that you have begun to drift off, or are ready to resume the practice,  With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  20. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  21. Take four deep breaths.
  22. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  23. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  24. Take three deep breaths.
  25. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  26. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  27. Take two deep breaths.
  28. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  29. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  30. Take one deep breath.
  31. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  32. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.

Know that you can return to these phrases through out your day.

 

 

Exercise 50: A Return to the Mantra

Background: These last few practices have been rooted in the experience that changes in my breath are not caused by “me” (whatever it is that I am!)  Rather, it is the universe breathing in me.

Click here and here and here to see these practices or to read more background into this experience.

There are some who believe that there is something sacred in the precise words chosen for the mantra.  This has not been my experience.  Part of the vision of The Faith-ing Project is that you might fall in love with a certain practice and then go to the source and context of that practice, though.  If the idea that there is something sacred inherent to the sounds chosen for a mantra resonates with you, I wish you peace as you explore that possibility.

The value I see in a Mantra is in the constant repetition of a word and phrase.  One thing that happens here is that the words come to individually seem suspect.  Do they mean anything at all?  After saying them over and over again, it feels as though they individually have no meaning.  And yet, the meaning is still there.  It seems to become bigger than the individual words.  This can feel like a metaphor for the nature of the universe itself, this wearing down of the boundaries between all things.

The Practice.

  1.  Find a comfortable position.  If you can, sit straight.  Place your palms upward, in a receptive gesture.
  2. Breathe deeply three times.
  3. With the next exhale, begin your mantra.  Say it repeatedly.
  4. With the inhale, continue thinking the mantra.
  5. Fall into a rhythm if you can.  Chanting can be very powerful.
  6. When you are ready, open yourself to the possibility that this breath is not your breath.  It is the universe breathing in you.  It is the universe breathing you.
  7. Continue this for a while, chanting your mantra, holding the possibility that the universe is breathing within you.
  8. When you are ready, try on the possibility that the mantra is not your mantra.  It is not you saying it.  The mantra is the universe speaking its truth in you.
  9.  Maintain this for a while: chant the mantra.  The words and the breath are not you or yours.  You are the universe’s instrument.
  10. When you are ready, on the inhale, hear the mantra still being said.  This is a goal for mantra-based meditation.  To see the speaking of the words as just taking up a mantra that is already in the air.
  11. Release the mantra and sit in a time of worldess union.

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Exercise 49: Observing the Breath

Background

If you wanted to divide up all the spiritual exercises, all the contemplations, all the ways of approaching of mindfulness that have ever been, you could find one convenient dividing line around what they do with the breath.  

Many practices begin by asking us to take charge of the breath. Generally speaking, these practices encourage us to slow down our breathing.  There are lots of reasons that this is a good idea.

As discussed above, it may not be the most accurate picture of the way things work though.

The other category of practices asks us to simply observe the breath.  

The act of simply tuning into the breath can be so much more difficult than it sounds.  It is easy to overthink the direction, “Tune into your breath without changing it.” Generally speaking, holding this instruction to tightly will lead to struggles.  In trying to be too literal we tend to unleash a series of questions and doubts.

As with so many things, entering these exercises in a light-hearted manner is wise.  If we accept that we will not be perfect at it, we will be able to observe our breath much more effectively.

Exercise 17: Observing the breath

 

  1. Create a safe, quiet space.
  2. Sit in a comfortable, upright manner if you are able.
  3. Tune in to your breath.  Do your best to accept it without changing it.
  4. Note whether you are using the mouth, nose, or both.
  5. Become aware of specifically where you feel the breath entering the nose or mouth.  How does it feel there? What is the temperature?
  6. Note the temperature as it comes in.  
  7. Extend this awareness of the feeling and temperature as the breath leaves you.
  8. Where does the breath end in your body?  Does your abdomen move? Your chest?
  9. When you are ready, increasingly bring yourself into this particular breath.  The one you feel right now. This breath, now is the only breath you can ever change.  It is wholly unique among all the breaths you will ever feel. Greet each breath. Find its uniqueness. 
  10.  Welcome the special breaths that follow in the same way.  Sit in this awareness for most of the time you have devoted to your practice today.  
  11. When you are ready, return to your everyday life.  But know that you can welcome each breath throughout your day.